The UV-resistant glass of the train turned the red sunset into an unhealthy grey-purple. The car was abandoned save for Genji, the rescued dog, and a child-nanny couple. The child was a boy dressed in a small brown suit and a haircut that was ruler-perfect across his forehead. The nanny was a Nell-E, one of the earlier editions that was built to look like an overlarge toy. Her dome was a series of misshapen ovals that suggested a face in comforting abstract, like what one might find in a set of building blocks. Her and the boy were having a circular conversation in the 20 GOTO 10 style.
“Can I have a cookie?”
“No you may not.”
“It is ten minutes away from your dinner time.”
“What’s for dinner?”
“Peas and potatoes. Chicken tikka. Roti.”
“I don’t want that. Can I have a cookie?” and so forth.
The dog labored to move in the train car. One of its eyes was permanently damaged, the internal screen spiderwebbed with cracks that even the tiniest screwdriver in Genji’s kit could not fix. The dog continually nosed a small vent blowing filtered air into the car. The vent would inevitably squeak and drive the dog away a small distance, where it would watch the vent suspiciously until curiosity overwhelmed it and it trotted over to start the cycle once again.
Child and machine, Genji puzzled, both alike in reason and mien. Why was it that humanity sought to cripple machine? Was it fear? Then why give it reason at all?
The boy had gone silent. He was watching the dog.
“Nanny, you see that dog?”
“Can I pet it?”
The Nell-E turned her dome up to Genji, who nodded. The boy slid from the molded plastic seat and got to his hands and knees to pet the dog.
“Here,boy.” His face showed unchecked delight. It did not seem to matter to him that the dog was not organic. The dog eagerly trotted over, tail wagging in a lopsided ellipses because half of its spinal pins were missing. It nosed his hands and allowed itself to be pet.
The boy turned his face up to the Nell-E. “Can I have it?”
“You cannot simply take a dog, Nigel.” The droid rose from the seat. “It may be that he belongs to another and is coming from or going to an appointment.”
The boy looked up at Genji.
“The dog is ownerless at the moment. You may take it if you wish.”
The boy looked back at the Nell-E. “Pleeease?”
“I will have to inform your father, and then he will have to evaluate the animal.”
“Can’t we just keep it a secret?” The boy stood and tugged on the Nell-E’s arm. “I won’t tell dad, I swear I swear.”
“We cannot keep secrets from your father.” The Nell-E lowered a hand to the animal. The dog sniffed it and wagged a broken tail. “I will make a case that it is to your development’s benefit to have a pet. Perhaps having a second hand dog will teach good values.”
“Oh thankyou thankyou.” The boy hugged her until their stop came. The three of them, nanny, boy, and dog, left the train in a clump.
The boy did not hold a prejudice towards his nanny, did not treat her as an appliance. When did such prejudice take hold, then?
A man peeked through the window from the adjoining car. Seeing only Genji, he entered and slid the door closed behind himself. He stationed himself near the end of the car, tucking his feet up on the seat.
Another man slid the door open from the next car. He had a volt gun concealed in a roll of newspaper tucked beneath his arm. He stood and held onto a strap in front of the street door.
The door to the next car slid open a third time. This man seemed to be preoccupied, squinting up at street maps and mouthing things to himself, sitting only to get up a second later, pacing back and forth down the length of the car. His reflection paced in Genji’s dome, shrinking as he drew further away and growing as he passed the android.
Finally, the pacing man stopped at Genji.
“‘Scuse me,” he said, “do you think this watch is broken?”
Clamped on one hairy wrist was a wristwatch, the model that told calendar days and moon phases as well as minutes and hours. Genji calculated.
“My internal clock says—”
The man at the street door appeared to stumble, dropping the newspaper. Quick as a flash, the volt gun found Genji’s charge port and shot a cartridge. Genji whited out.
The Genji model was a relatively recent production, one that sought to balance functionality with resilience. The previous Genji series had suffered from power surges due to all-too-frequent earthquakes interrupting the current. To circumvent this, the modern Genjis were built with a killswitch just inside the charge port. In the event of a charge greater than 1.5 megavolts, the port shut down.
Genji booted into safe mode. Sensors indicated he was laid out on the train floor and that his abdominal case was open. His functions flickered back to life, one by one, running in reduced capacity. Sound was tinny and indistinct to him.
“…ust sitting there…get a model this expensive and then just…out on an errand?” The man’s voice held a metallic growl, as if he were the robot.
“Doma corp? They’re all the way over in the Vale. I’m telling you, someone’s jacked this model and was marching it down here for parts.” Genji’s sound ports gained a whining tone as they came back online.
“I dunno, man. Tokoyama’s stuff is supposed to be uncrackable.”
“Well yeah, but there’s an exploit. They’re sensitive to broadcast. It’s in case one gets damaged in the field and they need to wipe it remotely.”
“Then why didn’t we do that?” Genji’s cameras were booting up. The men were indistinct and pixelated. The man with the volt gun gestured as he spoke. “Why run the risk of frying perfectly good hardware?”
“You don’t pay me enough, that’s why. Anyway, those parts have serials. They’d know you’re selling Doma shit. Let’s just finish this and scatter.”
Genji said, “gentlemen,” and grabbed the volt gun.
The men yelled as if they’d seen a ghost. A turn of phrase Genji found appropriate in this instance.
“Wh-what the fuck?” The man who had spoken about Genji’s exploits pointed a shaking finger at the robot. “I thought you put the gun to him, man!”
“He did.” Genji balanced the gun on his palm. Normally a construction tool, this one had been tinkered and joined with a large battery, upping the voltage to lethal levels. “It would have permanently disabled another model. May I ask what you want with me?”
The third man stood and jabbed a finger at Genji. “I don’t have to tell you shit, you fucking toaster.”
“No. I don’t care what he says, Ray just missed. Get him again.”
“Jody let him go.”
“And what? He’s seen our faces, man. He’ll go back to Doma.” The man called Jody looked from one of his companions to the other. Neither rose to help. “Man…fuck you guys.”
He pulled a stun baton from the waist of his coat and took a sweeping jab at Genji, who was waiting. A grip strength of 285 psi rendered his wrist useless. Jody howled and beat at the robot’s hand, tears and snot trickling down his face. The other two men looked on, aghast.
The next stop dinged. The man called Ray stood up, hands out in a defensive position.
“Look….we don’t know him that well, all right? Tell Doma we just went along for the ride.”
The doors opened and Ray nearly lept from the car. The man on the floor was left looking indecisively at the robot.
He heaved himself up and barely made it out of the car before the doors closed. The train started up again and the stop was left behind.
“I will let you go,” Genji said, “if you do not strike me again.”
Jody sniveled, nodding. He yanked his wrist away and rubbed at it, smearing his tears across his face with a jacket sleeve. Genji put himself back together, retrieving his parts from an open duffel bag on the floor. His language cards had been the first to go, the pins on the Czech and Russian cards bent out of true. He straightened them as best he could before reinserting them. Capacitors littered the bottom of the bag, as Genji restored them he felt his systems normalize.
Jody sat across the aisle, nursing his wrist. “…so what now?”
“I am not certain.”
“Are you taking me to Doma corp? Dropping me at the nearest Civ station?”
“I have no wish to go back to Doma at the moment. My motivation for leaving the company remains unanswered, and I must press on.”
“You’re going rogue? Hol-ee shit.” The man seemed equal parts impressed and dismayed. “So what’re you doing? Someone jack you, send you on an assassination?”
“No one has impelled me to do anything. I left of my own free will.”
“I didn’t think that was possible.”
“You are not alone in that respect.” Genji shut his abdominal casing. “I am pursuing the question of man’s relationship to robotkind,once I have achieved my answer I will return to my duties. Only then.”
“Yeah, good luck with that,” Jody chuckled. “Probably won’t be too happy with what you find.” The man’s posture had relaxed. Save for Genji’s current state, the two of them could be work colleagues heading home after a long day.
“It is not a matter of satisfaction, but of context. I lack the adequate amount of knowledge to perform my purpose successfully. I will solve my dilemma holistically. In understanding man I will understand my purpose.”
Jody shook his head. “That’s a…whole lot of five-dollar words, lemme say.” He frowned. His wrist seemed to have regained some feeling. “So you’re not gonna turn me in, are you?”
“I would have no occasion to. I would gently encourage you to do so yourself, but have no way of enforcing such a request.”
“So what makes you think I’ll do it? Why say anything?”
“Because it may compel you to.”
Jody chuckled. “What, you think I have something that makes me act like a good little citizen, like all those chips inside you?”
“I believe you call it a soul.”
The smile fell off Jody’s face. “Well, ah…” He stretched, surreptitiously sneaking a look at the street signs. “I’m gonna get off here.”
Jody hesitated as the street doors hissed open. He looked back to the bench where Genji had retaken his original position.
“Good luck,” he blurted, and then he was gone.